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Microsoft's 'Mr Office' keeps tags on court case

A US patent case against Microsoft brought by a Norwegian firm is attracting the attention of Redmond's top-level executives
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Written by Rupert Goodwins, Executive editor, ZDNet on

A patent case in Rhode Island concerning a key component of Microsoft Office is underway with Steven Sinofsky, the company vice president in charge of Office, in attendance and expected to testify.

Arendi Holdings, a small Norwegian company, filed the lawsuit in 2002, charging Microsoft with violating its US Patent 6,323,853 for a "method, system and computer readable medium for addressing handling from a computer program", by including "Smart Tags" in its Office suite.

"Smart Tags" were shipped with Office XP for linking words in a document to other actions or information. By using Smart Tags, for example, an Office user can automatically add a contact to his address book by clicking on a name in a document.

Arendi alleges the technology infringes on its patent, which covers a method for automatically executing a search for information related to a name or address typed into a document. Arendi sells OneButton, a Microsoft Word add-on for managing a Windows address book, and says that it created the technology in 1997.

Microsoft spokeswoman Stacy Drake said the company would challenge both the validity of Arendi's patent and the infringement claim.

"Smart Tags is technology we invented and is based on engineering work that predates Arendi's invention," she said. Sinovsky, who prior to his Office assignment advised Bill Gates on overall technical strategy, was reportedly key to the company's 1994 overnight switch to an Internet-based strategy. He currently oversees research and development on most of Office's components.

The case is being heard before an eight-person jury, and a result is expected in around a week.

CNET News.com's David Becker contributed to this report.

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